Mary Anne Kaiser Williams ’80 has found success in sustaining strong relationships in her work for nonprofits and credits GPS for establishing her original network and friendships.
“My teachers at GPS were some of my best role models. They made me excited to learn,” Williams says. The lessons instilled in her and the focus on empowering young women to be strong and smart have followed her throughout her varied career.
“I knew I wanted to pursue exciting opportunities and lead a rewarding life,” Williams says. “GPS gave me the skills to be able to reinvent myself and apply those skills in various ways.”
She has embraced that prowess over decades now, living out the Laura Handly award she won her senior year at GPS, which recognizes a young woman who shows promise of becoming a community leader and who has developed that leadership in a quiet way.
Today she serves as Development Manager at the aquarium, a local gem that is not only a tourist attraction but also a destination for locals of all ages—from babies in strollers to senior adults. Williams appreciates the city’s wonderful transformation from her time in high school—navigating across the Walnut Street bridge to GPS as a new driver—and she’s eager to see what’s in store for the future of Chattanooga.
A Bigger World
In addition to her work at the aquarium, Williams has been instrumental on the board of the Lookout Mountain Conservancy, a nonprofit that protects the natural resources of the area while teaching conservation in young people. Six years ago, the conservancy started a mentoring and internship program with students at nearby Howard High School, a move that Williams applauds.
“There are still many challenges to overcome in the city, and as we move forward, conservation awareness is a big piece of that puzzle,” Williams says. “With the boom in outdoor recreation and conservation over the last 25 years, programs like the Lookout Mountain Conservancy will grow slowly over time and broaden the goodness for everybody.”
After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Williams worked as a bank teller, where she realized her strength was building relationships. Her people-focused personality landed her a position with the local chapter of the American Lung Association, where her boss and mentor helped her realize that fundraising for nonprofits wasn’t about asking for money—it was about building relationships and giving people an opportunity to support a worthwhile cause.
She has followed many paths in nonprofit and broadcasting—Chattanoogans likely recognize Williams’ voice from her time as an on-air host for WUTC 88.1 FM. She was also co-host, producer, and reporter for “Live and Local,” a news and opinion talk show on WGOW Talk Radio 102.3 FM. While she went back to the nonprofit world through her work at the Lookout Mountain Conservancy, she simultaneously took a position as the public safety communicator for Lookout Mountain Police Department.
“I’ve built wonderful relationships on the mountain, and it was an honor to be there for people—many of whom I knew—and make sure help gets to them,” says Williams, who was raised and still lives on Lookout Mountain. “I had the privilege of working alongside many wonderful officers and serving our community.
Back to the Water
When the position opened up at the aquarium, Williams dove at the opportunity. Much like in her prior roles, she believes in the organization’s mission to connect people with nature and empower them to make informed decisions about water and wildlife.
Most of her work supports The River Society, the aquarium’s annual fund that fuels educational programs, bolsters the growth of scientific research, and sustains the aquarium’s world-class exhibits.
“What I love most about our aquarium is that everyone—the educational staff, volunteers, husbandry, aquarists, visitors services personnel—is glad you are here. They want to help you discover something new,” she says. “People leave here thinking they can do more. They want to come back. It’s what the aquarium was built on.”
Williams says the education and awareness of the area’s natural resources happening through the aquarium in many ways matches the mission of GPS—to help people see and appreciate the world around us.